Parti Quebecois mining bill shelved; lacked opposition support

QUEBEC – A Parti Quebecois bill to reform the mining industry has been scrapped because of lack of opposition support, amid deepening economic concerns.

The minority government’s Bill 43 died on the order paper Wednesday as opposition parties opposed the minority government’s bill.

The PQ is expressing frustration over that turn of events, noting that the bill was already a watered-down version of the plan it campaigned on and that it had incorporated opposition ideas.

“What a great way to help the Quebec economy — blocking a bill that needed to be adopted,” Premier Pauline Marois told the legislature.

But the opposition says it has no confidence in this government. It accuses the PQ of scaring off investors with a hostile attitude toward the sector — and it points to two events this week as evidence.

According to newly released statistics, the mining sector has shrunk this year for the first time in a decade, with investments projected to decline 9.8 per cent from the record high in 2012 — although a slowdown has also been seen outside the province.

Also, there’s news that U.S. giant Alcoa has threatened to shut down one-third of its nine Quebec smelters unless the government revises plans to drastically increase its hydro rates for 2015.

Marois accused the company of fear-mongering — which only served to further annoy her opponents.

“It’s not by demonizing job-creators that we’re going to save these 3,300 (Alcoa) jobs,” Liberal MNA Jean-Marc Fournier told the legislature.

“In the mining sector there’s a movement that exists, it’s called ‘Quebec, never again,’ … it’s an anti-Quebec movement around the world in reaction to its mining bill.

“Now aluminum companies are asking for help, and the PQ replies that they’re misleading the public. When will you stop this economic sabotage?”

Marois said her government was in touch with senior executives at Alcoa to find a resolution. She added: “I was very stunned this morning to see the comments, the panic people seem to want to sow amongst the workers. I want to reassure them.”

As for the now-defeated mining bill, it would have raised mining royalty rates by only a fraction of the levels set out in last year’s election platform.

The party was elected last year on a platform that included a call for resource revenues to more than double, with a new royalty formula that would bring provincial coffers another $388 million per year.

Its election messaging promised big changes and had accused the previous Liberal government of selling out Quebec’s resources.

But with only a minority, and in the face of concerns from the business community, the PQ toned down its plan when it introduced the bill in May.

The bill would have increased royalties by 15 per cent.

Mining companies would have been required to pay a minimum annual tax, based on extraction amounts, and a royalty on profits ranging between 16 and 23 per cent.

The plan also called for more transparency and would have made public the annual sums raised from each individual company.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.